Greenhouse gas mitigation options for Māori pastoral farmers

The New Zealand agricultural industry is commited to reducing greenhouse gas emissions, to meet its requirements under the Kyoto Protocol. But for some farmers it can be a challenge to balance economic and environmental concerns.

Farmers want to remain profitable, but increasing farm production can increase greenhouse gas emissions, which has implications for global warming and climate change.

In the future agricultural greenhouse gas emissions are likely to be regulated, or subject to a carbon tax, so New Zealand farmers need better information on technologies and strategies to mitigate emissions voluntarily to reduce their farm’s environmental footprint.

AgResearch has partnered with Scion and AgFirst to investigate greenhouse gas mitigation options for Māori pastoral farmers, a three-year research project funded by the New Zealand Agricultural Greenhouse Gas Research Centre (NZAGRC).

The project, led by Dr Tanira Kingi, started on July 1 2014 and aims to help the Māori pastoral sector increase resource efficiency and farm profitability, while lowering greenhouse gas emissions.

Although the outcomes of the research are expected to be pertinant to all farmers, Māori farmers are the focus of this project. Land legislation, cultural preferences and ownership structural differences mean Māori landowners don’t always respond to environmental challenges in the same way as the general sector. For example, governance decisions can be more complex when a farm is run by an incorporation, trust or company. ‘Kaitiakitanga’, or guardianship of the land and a concern for protecting the environment, is an important principle to Māori, and also plays a role in decision-making.

There are three stages to the programme, currently underway. The first stage, led by Dr Tanira Kingi, involves developing a profile of the Māori pastoral sector using farm typologies that are representative of the sector. These typologies or representative categories are based on things like scale, ownership structure, enterprise deversity and production systems.

A network of 30 Māori farms that represent the main typologies will be selected from across New Zealand. Each farm will be profiled and modelled in Overseer to determine and benchmark their emissions profile.

The second stage of the programme, mitigation modelling and design led Scion’s Graham West, will model a range of mitigation options and their impacts on four case study farms.  These four farms will be selected from the 30 farms, from different regions, for more indepth analysis using Farmax, Mitigator and Forecaster.

“The mitigation options we are looking at are being developed in conjunction with other research programmes, such as DairyNZ’s ‘Managing greenhouse gas emissions’ programme, led by Dr Cecile de Klein,” says Dr Kingi. These options are likely to be customised according to the needs and specifications of the case study farms, and may include reducing stocking rates, fertiliser substitutions and changes to pasture componsition and management.  “The mitigation options and impacts on the farm sytems will be entered into an ‘Emissions Matrix’ and this will be available to the governance boards in the network of 30 farms to take a closer look at with their consultants and farm managers. The expectation is that they’ll try out some of these options in their own farm system,” says Dr Kingi.

The third stage, led by Dr Margaret Brown, involves working with the four case study farms and their farm advisors to establish discussion groups around each farm, using hui/field days and workshops to demonstrate the results of the mitigation models. Tools will be developed which can be accessed by all farmers, including access to the Emissions Matrix and downloadable reports from the NZAGRC website.

“While technologies to reduce nitrous oxide and methane emissions are being developed, farmers still need to continue to lift their game to improve carbon efficiency,” says Dr Kingi. “We hope to demonstrate that farming smarter may actually increase profitability and reduce emissions. Lowering emissions shouldn’t necessarily mean losing money.”

The project is also linked to another project: the ‘Forages for reduced nitrate leaching (FRNL) programme’, funded by the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE) and led by DairyNZ.  Dr Kingi is working in that programme with Ngai Tahu Farming Ltd (Canterbury) and PKW Farming Ltd (Taranaki) who have recently joined the FRNL monitor farm programme.

AgResearch scientists in the related projects (DairyNZ’s Managing greenhouse gas  emissions programme and MBIE’s FRNL programme) include Cecile de Klein, Robin Dynes and Tony Van Der Weerden.